CDT 2021: Day 147, Sun River to Rock Creek

And the wall stretches endless beside you to nowhere

The Chinese Wall in Bob Marshall Wilderness

Humans have been building massive walls for thousands of years to keep people in or out. The Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall, and the Berlin Wall are well-known examples of these structures. They are familiar to us because of their impressive size and notorious history.

A wall in Montana is much larger and older than any of the walls I've named, yet it is relatively unknown. The difference is that humans didn't build it. Nature did.

DateMonday, September 6, 2021
WeatherPartly cloudy and smokey with gusty winds early; temperatures from the upper-40s to upper-60s
Trail ConditionsLong climb, then moderate ups and downs
Today's Miles19.2
Trip Miles2186.9

The Chinese Wall is a limestone escarpment, a long, steep slope that rises to 1,000 feet from the ground. It was formed over eons when a reef from a prehistoric ocean was pushed up by geologic forces.

Although the wall is generally recognized to be 12 miles long, an argument is made that it is closer to 40 miles long. The Continental Divide runs along its ridge.

The Chinese Wall got its name because it reminded early visitors of the Great Wall of China. The Montana wall isn’t well-known because it isn't easy to view. Getting there requires hiking nearly 20 miles from the nearest road. The wall is within Bob Marshall Wilderness, where motor vehicles are prohibited and grizzly bears roam.

Fortunately for Polecat, Top O', and me, the Continental Divide Trail would lead us to this amazing spectacle today.

Sunrise in Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana

As has generally been the case these days, we were awake before sunrise. Last night was dry and comfortable. It helped that no trees stood around us to block a breeze, which kept condensation out of our tents.

Dead, burnt trees

The breeze began to increase as the sun came up. By the time I left our campsite and followed the trail back into the burnt remains of a forest, the wind was blowing strong and gusty.

The farther I walked among the dead trees, the louder the wind whistled through them. Soon, I heard spooky, howling sounds as the trees swayed around me. It was as if thousands of ghosts were wailing, moaning, and hollering nearby.

Polecat collects water from the West Fork South Fork Sun River

Polecat and I stopped to collect water at a footbridge that crossed the West Fork South Fork Sun River. He continued walking after he had filtered the water he needed, but I stayed by the river to eat breakfast.

Smokey sky in Bob Marshall Wilderness

The wind had died down a little by the time I began walking again. The sky wasn't quite as smokey as yesterday afternoon and last night. Still, a pale haze blanketed every distant view.

I walked alone for the rest of the morning, passing a few weekenders but seeing no thru-hikers. The trail continued roughly parallel with the river. That has seemed to be the general path of the CDT lately. Instead of going up, over, and down ridges, the trail mostly followed lower elevations down long valleys.

Yellow and red leaves along the CDT in Montana

More signs of fall appeared today. Shrubs and grasses were turning yellow and red.

I didn't see Top O' and Polecat until they stopped for lunch near the river. During our break, we discussed where we wanted to camp tonight.

We were uncertain where camping was possible because an area near the Chinese Wall was designated a no-camping zone. Comments in the Guthook app said a map marker pointed to the wrong location for the zone. Sorting through the information was difficult to figure out where we could camp.

First view of the Chinese Wall

I climbed gradually all morning and into the afternoon as the trail went upstream with the river.

My first view of the Chinese Wall came at 3 p.m. This was near where the trail turned away from the river and went west along Burnt Creek.

The climb continued, and though steeper than before, I didn't need to slow my pace.

The south end of the Chinese Wall

A little more than a mile past the river, the trail led me to the foot of the wall. It made another turn there, this time to leave Burnt Creek and go north along the base of the wall.

The CDT continued along the wall for about seven of its twelve miles. When I started following it, I could see most of the long section to the south that was not part of the route.

The Chinese Wall with trees standing in front

The next two miles were the steepest of the day, climbing 1,150 feet in two miles. The trail went up to a pass, and for a time, I couldn't see the wall. It came into view again after I crested the pass.

Moose Creek and the Chinese Wall

About eight-tenths of a mile down the other side of the pass, I came upon Moose Creek. I stopped here to refill my water bottle.

The time was 4:25 p.m. when I arrived, so there was still plenty of time to find a camping spot where it was allowed.

I didn't get far after I stopped for water because my pack became uncomfortable to carry. I needed to stop again to adjust the weight distribution of my extra food.

While doing that, I was stung by a yellow jacket. Fortunately, it must have been a quick sting. There was no swelling afterward, which sometimes happens when I've been stung.

A closeup view of the Chinese Wall, Montana

I caught up to Polecat and Top O' again at 5:45 p.m. They had just stopped to set up their tents. The spot they chose was ideal, close to Rock Creek and with a spellbinding view of the wall.

The only downside to our campsite was a lack of nearby trees with high limbs. We needed several minutes and some ingenuity to hang our bear bags.

You are walking
You've always been walking
Stumbling half-blinded and dry as the wind
That strafes you and leaves you to lie in the sand
And the wall stretches endless beside you to nowhere
This wall that you've been trying to cross for years
This fence made of fears
No one hears


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.